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Billionaires Oppose Democracy in Washington State: Fight to Get Tax $$$ for Private Schools

November 19, 2015

The Seattle Pilot reports that a coalition of astro-turf organizations in Washington State is seeking passage of legislation that would allow nine charter schools governed by private boards to re-open. The legislation is needed because:

The state Supreme Court, in a decision just before Labor Day, ruled that charter schools don’t qualify as “common schools” and can’t receive public funding.  The key issue, the court said, is that charter schools are controlled by their own boards and not by elected school boards.

As noted in earlier blog posts, this decision is based on the fact that the constitution in Washington allows only those schools operated by elected school boards to receive taxpayer-funding. This makes sense in a democracy where local voters elect school board members with the understanding that those elected to the board will do their best to provide children with a cost-effective education and agree to raise the money needed to make that happen. But the billionaires who see those tax funds as a potential revenue source are opposed to business as usual and are looking for the legislature to fix the problem. And to help the legislature open her minds to this legislation, the billionaires are funding organizations with high-minded name to organize rallies in Washington’s state capitol, Olympia:

The state narrowly passed a charter school initiative in 2012 after a campaign fueled by technology billionaires.  Act Now for Washington Students has backing from such groups as the League of Education Voters, the Washington Roundtable, Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children.

I’ve read about these alleged grassroots organizations in progressive education blogs and know that if you follow the money— and there’s a LOT of it— it comes from the same group of technology billionaires who want to deregulate an disrupt public education. I’m in complete support of the need to make rapid and substantial changes to schooling through the thoughtful application of technology, but not at the cost of undermining democracy… and if that means it will take more time to bring about the changes in instruction, so be it.

I do have to begrudgingly admire the chutzpah of the billionaires and their artful manipulation of parents whose children attend their schools. Roquesia Williams, a Tacoma parent with children in several of the charter schools, is quoted in the report as follows:

We are asking our leaders to put politics aside and give public charter schools — and our kids — a chance to thrive.  Please don’t slam the door on our dreams.

But politics are NOT being put aside, because incumbent Governor Jay Inslee and his likely opponent, Bill Bryant have polar opposite positions on the issue:

Incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee has lined up with the Washington Education Association, League of Women Voters and El Centro de la Raza — groups which challenged the charter school initiative in court.

“I opposed the initiative that created charter schools because I did not believe that public money belongs in schools that lack public oversight and accountability.  That remains my position,” Inslee said in a statement shortly after the Supreme Court ruling…

But the Republicans’ challenger, Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, has become an outspoken defender and advocate for the state’s charter schools.

“Had I been governor, within days of the (Supreme Court) ruling, I would have submitted legislation clarifying the funding source and keeping these kids in school,” Bryant said Tuesday. “I’ve toured five of the nine publicly chartered schools and will tour all nine before the legislature reconvenes.

I’m certain this issue is far from over in Washington… and equally certain that if it comes down to buying advertising the billionaires will win.

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